Neurology experts put heads together on epilepsy

26-member task force developed seven consensus papers
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Epilepsy remains the most common and perplexing of chronic neurological pet diseases despite decades of research. In the U.S. alone, some 780,000 dogs each year are found to have the disease.

Dr. Muñana
Dr. Karen Muñana of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who researches, diagnoses, and treats epilepsy in dogs and inflammatory brain diseases in dogs and cats. (Courtesy of North Carolina State University)
Dr. Platt
Dr. Simon R. Platt of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, whose research interests include epilepsy, stroke, and brain tumors. (Courtesy of the University of Georgia/Paul Efland)

Recently, an international, one-health group of veterinarians and scientists set out to unify and standardize guidelines for the research, diagnosis, and treatment of epilepsy in dog and cat veterinary patients for the first time. Their goal was to improve care for patients and create a basis for future studies of the condition.

Dr. Holger Volk established the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force and chaired it in 2014. He is clinical director of the University of London Royal Veterinary College small animal referral clinic and a specialist in neurology and neurosurgery.

Dr. Patterson
Dr. Ned Patterson of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, who focuses on genetics, seizure disorders, and molecular medicine. His researach, using novel drugs and novel devices, looks at understanding and treating epilepsy in dogs as a model for epilepsy in humans. (Courtesy of the University of Minnesota)
Dr. Podell
Dr. Michael Podell of Chicago Veterinary Neurology and Neurosurgery, who has clinical expertise in all aspects of medical and surgical neurology, with a special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. (Courtesy of




Made up of 26 veterinary and human neurologists and neuroscientists, practitioners, neuropharmacologists, and neuropathologists from around the world, the task force has produced seven consensus statements that outline recommendations and classifications on all aspects of the condition. It is the first time this many veterinary neurology clinicians and neuroscientists have formally agreed on the key aspects of epilepsy in dogs and cats.

“Lack of consistency among epilepsy researchers concerning classifications, definitions, and therapeutic outcome measures makes it difficult to draw comparisons and significantly limits the scientific impact of the studies,” Dr. Karen Muñana of the task force said in a press release. “This affects the development of effective professional guidelines which, in turn, hinders clinicians when they are diagnosing the disease and advising owners on treatment options for the pet’s condition.

“As diagnostic and therapeutic breakthroughs are happening all the time, the task force plans to stay intact and to update the consensus statements periodically. In the near future, we plan to work on consensus statements on electroencephalograms and the emergency treatment of seizures,” Dr. Ned Patterson of the task force told JAVMA.

The task force is also building a scientific and clinical framework to set standards for clinical trials and manage epilepsy research appropriately.

Any breed of dog or cat can develop epilepsy. Certain dog breeds, such as the Golden Retriever, Beagle, Border Collie, Dalmatian, English Springer Spaniel, Irish Wolfhound, Labrador Retriever, and Standard Poodle, have a genetic predisposition to the disorder.

“For many years, epilepsy in cats and dogs has been a significant issue for the veterinarian, but unlike for human epilepsy, we have not had a consensus developed based on multinational, institutional, and individual knowledge and experience,” Dr. Simon R. Platt of the task force said in a press release. “This task force effort represents a crucial step in the right direction toward more effective diagnosis and treatment of pets with seizures and may help to draw important parallels with the human disease, benefiting both of our worlds.”

Guidelines on epilepsy in dog and cat patients

The task force’s work has identified a “chain of care,” from the animal’s breeder and owner through the family practitioner to the neurology specialist and neuroscientist. Each statement aims to be a user-friendly and valid tool that benefits all these groups. The task force’s consensus statements cover the following topics:

The papers have been published in the academic journal BMC Veterinary Research and are open-access.

Related JAVMA content:

Dogs may not talk, but their collars can (Jan. 1, 2015)